This True Whole Wheat Changed How I Bake

Now it’s all I use for making bread

Mark Bittman
Heated
Published in
3 min readAug 24, 2020

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A field of wheat under a blue, cloudless sky.
Photo: Kate Robertson

This is the companion piece to These California Grain Geeks Want to Boost Your Immune System With True Whole Wheat.

Bob Klein, the founder of Community Grains, changed just about everything about the way I think about and make bread.

It started when he visited me in New York in 2014 and we chatted about the importance of real whole grains. I knew much of what he pointed out, but Bob’s commitment to true whole wheat made an impression on me.

I’d been making bread my whole adult life, always trying to figure out something more honest and traditional in my mind — something great made with 100 percent true whole wheat. I’d had some successes, but not in the sense that it became routine or regular.

Then I moved to Berkeley in early 2015, where I thought I’d find what I was looking for at one of the neighborhood bakeries. I was disappointed at first: Most of the great bakers were barely using whole wheat. Most consumers, as so many bakers have discovered, seem to want white flour. I knew that great whole grain bread was achievable, but I didn’t see anyone doing it.

Then Bob started inviting me to tastings and encouraging me to use some of the wheat Community Grains was milling. He also introduced me to a few Bay Area bakers interested in using whole grain; he also took me to meet farmers who were growing the wheat Bob was selling. Around the same time, I met Ellen King at Hewn in Chicago, and June Russell of GrowNYC’s Greenmarket Regional Grains Project, and others around New York who are passionate about giving whole grains their rightful place in breadmaking.

Through these conversations, over the next year, I recognized that “sourdough” was not about flavor, but more about leavening. You can’t make good whole grain bread with commercial yeast — it won’t happen. But if you use a natural starter to make leavened bread (really a better term than “sourdough” because although a starter is…

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Mark Bittman
Heated

Has published 30 books, including How to Cook Everything and VB6: The Case for Part-Time Veganism. Newsletter at markbittman.com.